The tradition to write reviews on works of an old friend can be dated back to ancient China. As an old friend of Weijian, I'm more than happy to follow such a tradition. Certainly, it is a great challenge to analyze the work of a contemporary painter, but I'm willing to give it a try, for the great courage and brilliant creativity of Liu Weijian as an art practitioner impress me deeply.
In the face of a world flooded with images, what will be the future of painting? Should a painter follow the nature of painting or should he try his best to turn his paintings into images? If the nature of painting and images are regarded as two ends of a measure, I think Weijian has made his choice to stand somewhere in the middle. How to create a new realm of painting becomes the focus of his thinking. There is supposed to be no limit in the realm of contemporary art. So-called order should lie in a state of disorder. Weijian has gradually managed to establish the order of his own art world.
Misreading of tradition may imbue contemporary art creation with some new meanings. Weijian once said he admired the tranquility lying in Shen Zhou's landscape painting. But as far as I'm concerned, his admiration for Shen Zhou is quite metaphysical. The cozy life Shen Zhou led would easily remind people of idle clouds and tired birds flying back to their nests described in the poems of Tao Yuanming. However, such coziness is almost nowhere to be found in Weijian's painting. Similar to Shen Zhou, Weijian also pays great attention to the world around him. But Shen Zhou's painting normally featured mountains hu qiu, ravens, fishermen, pine trees, and the wind; while Weijian's work usually features buildings, idle space, sculptures and things that are hard to be recognized. Shen Zhou tended to define the world around him while Weijian tends to deconstruct it. What Shen Zhou presented was an integrated world while Weijian seems to prefer a fragmented world. In a word, the difference between the two is almost fundamental. The only thing in common between the two is the sense of "tranquility" that prevails in their works.
What effect would it generate? From the artist's perspective, he focuses on his personal experience and history. Narrative elements have been discarded by him. Neither does the artist care about the influence of things on him nor does he declare the death of the author or try to convey abstruse ideas through his work. He understands perfectly that is what language, not painting, is good at. Hence there's no necessity to intentionally endow painting with such functions. Then what does his painting convey? Though viewers may focus on different aspects, a sense of bleakness is normally easy to be perceived. Such bleakness is the result of the nature of acrylic, the use of cold light, the absence of human character, the avoidance of bright colors and the isolation of perspectives. I prefer to call the way he expresses himself a "challenge". He keeps on challenging every viewer standing in front of his works, which, to some extent, can be seen as the core of his painting. Renowned scholar Qian Zhongshu used to make a comparison between Greek tragedies and plays written in China's Yuan Dynasty. He came to the conclusion that unlike Greek tragedies, which always promoted people to reflect, those Chinese plays tended to go back to a kind of set pattern. Generally speaking, the tradition of Chinese art creation tended to keep a distance from challenging its audience or promoting them to reflect. I would like to call his work "the portrait of an object". Different from still life or human portraits, the "portrait of an object" is vague and clear at the same time. Despite the absence of any specific face or facial expression, the audience would feel the existence of some invisible eyes contained in the paintings.
Taking a look at his previous works, we may find that there is some consistency running through his creation. I am impressed by his maturity. He seems to have known what he wants exactly from the very beginning of his art career and kept on pursuing that target afterward. But on the other hand, signs of development are also evident. Compared with the ambiguity and vagueness in his early works, his recent works seem to center around a more clear and specific theme. Meticulous thinking is the contribution he has made to contemporary painting.
20, Feb. 2010